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Opinion: Maajid Nawaz’s Ode to Despair

Opinion: Maajid Nawaz’s Ode to Despair

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Tans lecture speaker Maajid Nawaz needs to get his facts straight, says Lana Sirri, assistant professor at the Centre for Gender and Diversity. In this opinion piece she fact-checks some claims he made during his lecture and warns for the dangers of downplaying Islamophobia.

“No idea should be above scrutiny”. Commendably, Maajid Nawaz assured a Maastricht audience recently during his Tans lecture on 30 October that this is his maxim in life.

A revealing moment in Nawaz’s lecture calling for reform in Islam, came in the Q&A session. A skeptical audience member highlighted some of the lecture's many factual errors. Nawaz’s response was astonishing. Forgetting his maxim, he appealed to us not to get distracted by detail and “lose the wood for the trees”.

To adopt Nawaz’s forestry analogy, it is a basic principle of forest management that a forest is endangered when its trees are not healthy. If those trees are not well-rooted, they perish. If Nawaz cares about the forest then he should care about the trees.

At Maastricht University we do detail. We work in forestry management. As educators and as leaders in learning, we are hired and required to defend the highest standards of academic ethics. Fact-checking is in our job description. Fortunately, Nawaz's lecture provides an opportunity to apply his maxim through fact-checking.

Referencing a survey by ComRes, Nawaz described British Muslims' attitudes to the horrific Charlie Hebdo attacks, saying:

“Over a quarter of British Muslims surveyed said they sympathised - not with those murdered that day - but with the jihadist attackers…”

But the survey did not say this. ComRes found that 27% of British Muslims had “some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks” - obviously not the same thing as sympathy with the attackers. One can have some sympathy for a position - even minimal sympathy - while condemning actions deriving from that position. Interestingly, the survey failed to assess attitudes among British non-Muslims for comparison.

Moreover, Nawaz’s additional nugget “not with those murdered that day” had no factual basis. The survey did not ask British Muslims about their sympathy for the victims. Nawaz’s addition was ‘creative’.

Nawaz next skipped to the multi-dimensional problem of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). His analysis was uni-dimensional.

FGM is considered by many as child abuse. If we are to meet the UN's goal of eliminating it by 2030 - oversimplification is not an option. FGM is practiced primarily - but not exclusively - in African countries. In addition to Muslim communities, it is practiced by Christians in Egypt, Kenya and Sudan and also by Jews from Ethiopia according to the WHO.

FGM is not advocated by the Koran, Bible, Talmud or Torah. Islamic scholars condemn it as “un-Islamic”. Experts recommend culturally sensitive interventions and socioeconomic support for girls at risk. Despite reporting a dramatic drop in FGM rates since 1995, a recent peer-reviewed study in BMJ Global Health warns against complacency. Nawaz's complacent solution ignores both experts and non-Muslim girls suffering FGM. It is simple. Reform Islam.

Nawaz next used the small number of women Imams in European mosques to illustrate European Muslims' misogyny. This low number was hard-fought-for by Muslim feminists. So, in solidarity with our Catholic sisters, Muslim feminists humbly offer our support. Because in Europe’s many thousands of Catholic churches is even one female priest permitted to say Mass?

Finally, Nawaz referenced a study of British ‘paedophile grooming gangs’ claiming that 84% of cases involve one specific ethno-religious group. As an academic, I will not perpetuate the claim by naming that group because the study is not peer-reviewed. Moreover, the study published by Nawaz’s Quillam foundation - a think-tank - has been rubbished by experts in the field of child sexual exploitation. Dr. Ella Cockbain, has called it “quite probably the worst piece of ‘research’ I’ve ever read” with further criticism voiced by Professor Aisha Gill, Dr Naomi Murphy and Professor Dave Walsh.

Finally, Nawaz reassured us that Islamophobia is not “racism” since Islam is not a race. Applying such semantics, and recalling that human geneticists dispute the existence of races as a “social construct”, Nawaz must agree that racism is itself a mirage. Problem solved. But the fact remains - the denial of bigotry is the very essence of bigotry.

By downplaying Islamophobia, as a British Muslim, Nawaz gave us licence to indulge in it, leading to a chilling question from the audience: “what do we do about these people?”

Anti-Muslim sentiments are held by 35% of the Dutch population. Following Nawaz's lecture, that percentage is unlikely to have decreased. What we witnessed recently in Maastricht - the symbolic capital of European integration - was the sowing of another seed of European disintegration through the scape-goating once again of one of our minorities. Two weeks ago, I heard an ode to despair in Maastricht, not an ode to joy. I reject it as an educator and as a scholar. I reject it as a woman, a Muslim, a feminist, as an Arab and as a citizen of Europe.

Lana Sirri, assistant professor at the Centre for Gender and Diversity

Studium Generale has recorded the lecture, you can watch it here: (unfortunately, the first 20 minutes are without footage, due to technical problems with the camera, so only sound)



2018-11-17: Jeroen
There is a difference between criticism of a set of ideas, in this case Islam, and a pathological fear for it, a fobia. It seems to me that to label any form of criticism of Islam as a 'fobia' serves the purpose of not having to deal with and to address legitimate criticism, and of silencing the critic, by calling him/her fearful of Islam, or even of having racist motives. With regard to FGM: in the vast of majority of cases this practice is carried out by Muslims, as you well know. It is becoming increasingly popular among Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia and among Muslims in other areas in South East Asia, in a recent study 93% of Muslim women in Malaysia were reported to have been genitally mutilated because it is considered to be a religious duty commanded by Allah, and as it is thought to protect young girls from premarital sex and it is supposed to lower their sex drive. Clearly, there is a link between FGM and Islam in many countries, this cannot be denied. Maajid Nawaz may get some details wrong, but the gist of his argument, calling for reform of Islam, stands, as far as I can determine.
2018-11-18: Kevin Parlon
"FGM is not advocated by the Koran, Bible, Talmud or Torah. Islamic scholars condemn it as “un-Islamic”. "

This is so deeply disingenuous as to be borderline mendacious. Saying FGM is not in the Koran therefore is not Islamic is as facetious (and wrong) as saying the Sacrament of Confirmation is not in the bible and so is not Catholic. FGM pre-dates Islam so the fact that some non-Muslims also continue this pre-Islamic practice does nothing to diminish the role Islamic practice has played in propagating, promoting and today, sanctifying it.

1. FGM is well referenced in various Hadith (sayings of Muhammad)
2. All major Sunni schools of Islam regard FGM as ranging from "desirable" to "obligatory"
2018-11-21: zackyzau07
(note: what a weak hadith means is that it can not be used to make the claim that something is sanctioned by Islam, especially when it contradicts the Quran or a more reliable hadith)
Female circumcision, known pejoratively in its extreme form as female genital mutilation or cutting, is not prescribed in the Quran and there are no authentic prophetic traditions recommending the practice. The basis in Islamic law is that it is not permissible to cause bodily harm and any such practice of female circumcision proven to be harmful would be unlawful.

Ubaida ibn As-Samit reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لاَ ضَرَرَ وَلاَ ضِرَارَ

Do not cause harm or return harm.

Source: Sunan ibn Majah 2340, Grade: Hasan

Nevertheless, the practice was accepted by some of the classical schools of law and is practiced today by some Muslims, in which a small amount of skin is removed from the female genitalia, comparable to male circumcision. Sometimes the practice is done with excess, causing great harm to the girls who undergo the procedure.

There are a few weak traditions used to sanction the practice, but upon scrutiny we find that none of them are authentic.

Usama ibn Umair reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

الْخِتَانُ سُنَّةٌ لِلرِّجَالِ مَكْرُمَةٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ

Circumcision is a tradition for men and honorable for women.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 20195, Grade: Da’eef (weak)

This narration has been reported from Usama ibn Umair, Shidad ibn Aws, and Abdullah ibn Abbas, but all of them are weak.

The narration of Usama ibn Umair has been declared weak by Adh-Dhahabi in Tanqeeh At-Tahqeeq 2/264.

The narration of Shidad ibn Aws has been declared weak by Ibn Kathir in Jami’ Al-Musaneed 5100.

The narration of Abdullah ibn Abbas has been declared weak by Al-Bayhaqi in Sunan Al-Kubra 8/325.

Accordingly, this tradition does not meet the strict requirements for establishing a legal ruling in Islam, but there is another narration cited as proof we likewise need to scrutinize.

Umm Atiyyah reported: A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina and the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

لَا تُنْهِكِي فَإِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَحْظَى لِلْمَرْأَةِ وَأَحَبُّ إِلَى الْبَعْلِ

Do not cut severely, as it is better for the woman and more desirable for the husband.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 5271, Grade: Da’eef (weak)

Abu Dawud, who narrated this tradition, said:

وَمُحَمَّدُ بْنُ حَسَّانَ مَجْهُولٌ وَهَذَا الْحَدِيثُ ضَعِيفٌ

The narrator Muhammad ibn Hassan is unknown and this narration is weak.

Thus, this tradition also cannot be used as proof recommending the practice of female circumcision.

Some anti-Muslim writers have tried to describe female circumcision as a uniquely “Islamic” practice by citing these traditions, but as we have seen these reports are not authentic. In addition, the practice predates Islam and is supported by non-Muslim cultures as well.

According to Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf:

Linking female circumcision to Islamic philosophy and instruction has proven quite dubious. If Islam is indeed the foundation of female circumcision, how can we explain the persistence of the tradition among non-Muslim peoples who embrace it with equal ardor and enthusiasm? Conversely, how can we account for the fact that the great majority of adherents in some Muslim societies do not carry out any form of female genital excision?

Source: Abusharaf, R. M. (2006). Female circumcision: Multicultural perspectives. p. 2

From all of this, we can reasonably determine that the practice of female circumcision originated in cultures before Islam and was later “Islamized” by Muslim jurists.

Sheikh Dr. Abdur Rahman ibn Hasan al-Nafisah writes:

There is no evidence that this practice was widespread among the pious predecessors (salaf as-salih). Moreover, the practice has never been prevalent in the regions where Islam originated, Mecca and Medina and the surrounding areas of Arabia. It is extremely rare. If female circumcision had truly been endorsed by Islamic Law, it would certainly have been practiced and perpetuated in those regions. Only male circumcision is practiced, due to the authentic evidence in the Sunnah that it is part of the natural way (fitrah).

We conclude that female circumcision is merely a cultural practice that has no prescribed Islamic ruling for it and that is supported by no decisive textual evidence. It is simply a regional custom in the places where it is practiced. We must then take into consideration that many medical professionals consider it to have detrimental effects for the girls who undergo the operation. On that basis, it would be impermissible to allow this custom to continue. In Islamic Law, preservation of the person, the life and bodily soundness of the person, is a legal necessity. Anything that compromises this legal necessity by bringing harm to the person is unlawful.

Source: Islam Today

Therefore, the practice of female circumcision does not have support from the Quran and the tradition of the Prophet. It is a cultural tradition that has been adopted by some Muslim cultures and most Muslims do not practice it. If performing female circumcision leads to bodily harm, then such acts are forbidden by Islam.

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